Rob Gale has been dealing with theories and concepts, ideas and big visions for the Valour Football Club and the Canadian Premier League.
Now, the blueprint begins to take some shape.
Valour FC’s GM and head coach heads to Toronto today for 3 1/2 days of CPL meetings – it’s being billed as the ‘Coaches Summit’ – at which time some timeframes and the how, what, when and where behind roster building will become clearer.
And for a man who has been excitedly waiting to piece together a squad like a kid on Christmas Eve, these meetings are a bit like the calendar flipping over from November to December.
“This will be the first real get-together,” began Gale. “That’s the key about what we’re waiting for: the timeframes, the permissions to go out and start building our player pool and making sure it’s done as a collective, which is important to the league and to the Canadian players. They want everybody to feel like they’ve got a chance. It’s about doing it in the right way for the Canadian players.
“It’s putting the meat on the bone now for the league – the structures, the systems, the processes, the time frames… it’s giving us the entire blueprint for going forward. The key dates for building our rosters, the preseason… everything.”
The details have yet to be officially revealed, but the rosters will be built through a combination of a player allocation – each team will be assigned the rights to a handful of players – coast-to-coast free-agent camps beginning next month in Halifax and including a stop in Winnipeg in the fall, and a potential draft of U Sports players before coaches and GMs call on their contacts for the signing of players in the opening market.
The meetings this week will be led by CPL vice president of soccer operations James Easton and Mike Findlay, who served as the interim head coach of Canada’s Men’s Soccer squad in 2016-17.
The CPL will call for at least six of the starting 11 to be Canadian, and half of the total roster. The salary cap has yet to be announced, but it’s been reported it could fall in the $40,000-60,000 per player, with a separate cap for the coaching staff.
There is certainly no shortage of candidates to stock the rosters – and no shortage of interest from internationals looking for work in the CPL.
“We’re getting e-mails every day, phone calls from all over the world,” said Gale. “They’re coming from the African market, European market, from colleagues and contacts I’ve known for a long, long time.
“It’s really interesting because you want to make sure that you’re not promising things to players. You can’t do that until the league has established everything from the cap size to the roster size, to which players are going to be allocated…
“So, we’re in a holding pattern and waiting for that opportunity to go out and really start making contact with players on an official basis. Here’s the thing: if you get two centre backs or an entire back four allocated to you, you don’t want to already have spoken to six other defenders.
“The other tough part,” Gale added, “is nowadays anybody can put together a YouTube video of their highlights. I’ve watched thousands of them, as I did with the national team, scouting players. But they rarely show the lazy transition or the bad pass – some do, which is quite entertaining because they think what they’re showing you is good when it really isn’t. So, it’s a case of having a clear idea of what myself and the staff want of the identity of player we want to bring on board – roles, responsibilities, the key DNA of what a Valour Football Club player is going to look like.”
The CPL has been very methodical in its approach, from the weekly launch of the franchises – York 9, Cavalry FC (Calgary), HFX Wanderers FC, Valour FC, FC Edmonton, Forge FC (Hamilton) and Pacific FC (Vancouver Island) – to the coaching announcements, to the upcoming slow build of rosters.
“That’s the key,” said Gale. “That’s why they rolled the teams one by one as part of this, to build that excitement coast to coast. Now the head coaches are coming in, the momentum is growing with the memberships and that’s just going to grow as those first few players get signed, the Canadians, the international players.
“Then it will start to feel more real for the fans again. And once the local players get signed it will help with the community feel. It’s a good way of doing it. Sometimes – I’ve been in youth development and it’s the same thing – sometimes you want the answers now, right? You can either have it right or you can have it now, but you can’t have it right now.
“It’s totally starting to feel real. The fact that our Voyageurs Cup just rounded up (the Canadian championship, won by Toronto FC over the Vancouver Whitecaps)… I mean, think about that: the next one next year, we’ll be a part of that.
“That’s amazing to think of all that has happened since the announcement we had here with the thousand fans out here on our field. We’re three months into it and there’s been an overwhelming support. It’s exciting. It’s a ton of fun.”